Study Guide

You Should Have Known Chapter Twenty-One: The Caboose

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

Chapter Twenty-One: The Caboose

In this edition of the book, Chapter 21 is pages 366-389.

  • Grace thinks about the only time she visited Jonathan's home.
    • She was pregnant, and they were coming back from a weekend getaway in the Hamptons.
    • She forced Jonathan to stop, bracing herself for a horrible town with an "intense air of hopelessness," but the neighborhood is normal and pleasant.
    • Jonathan didn't want to get out of the car and see his family, so they left.
  • Present-day Grace pulls up to the house and parks on the curb.
  • An old lady thinks she's a reporter and asks if she wants the family to feel worse than they do already. She threatens to call the cops on Grace.
  • Jonathan's brother, Mitchell, comes out of the house and tells the old lady it's okay; Grace is family.
  • He apologizes to Grace and says their neighbors are just trying to be helpful.
  • Naomi (Jonathan's mother) looks much older than when Grace saw her in the hospital with baby Henry all those years ago. She asks if Henry's with her now, and Grace tells her he's with her dad.
  • David (Jonathan's father) gives her a huge hug, and Mitchell tells him not to smother her. David says they've all been thinking about her and tried to call their apartment in NYC, but they imagined she'd gone away.
  • She confirms that she brought Henry to her family's summer house in Connecticut, and Mitchell remembers that's where the wedding was.
    • Apparently, Jonathan asked them not to come and told Mitchell to leave right after the ceremony.
    • Somehow, this is still surprising to Grace. Mitchell says he thought their ceremony was beautiful and Vita's tribute to Grace's mother was lovely.
  • Naomi and David ask about Henry, and Grace tells them what a talented violin player he is and how much he wants a dog.
  • David asks why he can't have one. She says Jonathan told her what happened to their family dog.
  • Jonathan's family is extremely confused. They never had a dog.
  • We don't like where this is going.
  • Grace gingerly tells them the story Jonathan told her: Their family dog, Raven, escaped when Jonathan was home alone, and all of you blamed him for it.
  • Naomi starts crying. "That's not it, not by a long shot" (21.377). It wasn't a dog who escaped. It was his brother.
  • Now Grace is confused. She knew about Mitchell, but Mitchell says the story isn't about him. They had another brother, Aaron, who was 4. "He really never told you about it?"
  • He really never did, so Jonathan's family does.
    • Everything happened when Jonathan was 15, Mitchell was 13, and Aaron was 4. Naomi called Aaron "Boo," a shorter form of David's nickname for him, "Caboose."
    • The family was supposed to attend a bat mitzvah for the daughter of one their oldest friends.
    • Teenage Jonathan didn't want to go because the girl was two grades behind him and "not remotely attractive" (21.378). He must have been a joy to raise.
    • He and David fought about it, but Jonathan was adamant he wouldn't go.
    • Then Aaron spiked a fever.
    • Naomi figured that if she let Jonathan stay back with Aaron, the family could save face and Jonathan could bond with his little brother.
    • She tucked Aaron into bed and checked his temperature: 101.
    • They called to check in from the bat mitzvah a few hours later, and Jonathan said everything was fine.
    • When they got home, Aaron's fever was 105 and it was too late to save him.
    • Now seems like a good time to remember that Jonathan is the worst.
    • Jonathan told them Aaron wanted to play outside, then realized that wasn't a nice thing to let your brother do when he's four and has a fever and you're in charge.
    • He changed his story, saying he thought Aaron was in his room the whole time.
    • Mitchell confirms that they did know Aaron had been outside, but they didn't know for how long or whether he actually wanted to go out or was told to.
    • It was too painful to think about, so they made up a story that Aaron wanted to play outside and had a great time, and then he came upstairs and didn't have a chance to feel sick before he fell asleep.
    • Jonathan would never tell them the same story, and the police knew he was responsible, but they also knew how hard it would be for his family to hold him accountable legally.
  • Grace is back in spinny camera mode.
  • David says Jonathan never once said he was sorry, and Naomi says he wasn't sorry. He just lived there until he could get out of the house, then deigned to let them pay his tuition until he moved in with an older woman. All of this is new to Grace.
  • Mitchell says he told himself that maybe Jonathan's desire to become a pediatrician and help other kids was his way of dealing with what happened to Aaron, even it was too painful to be around his own family.
  • Now he realizes he doesn't understand Jonathan, and he never has.
  • This statement snaps Grace into her professional mode, and she tells him there's no way to understand a brain like that. She tells Naomi that there's nothing she could have done to fix Jonathan.
  • Naomi understands and thanks Grace for saying that, but she still feels responsible and tried to be a good mother.
  • Mitchell quotes his wife, who says, "The only thing you can do when a person like my brother comes into your life is just get out of the way" (21.382).
  • Yet again, Grace is surprised to hear that Mitchell is married and not a basement-dweller.He and his wife are about to buy a house, and he's the principal of an elementary school. Aaron's death really affected him and drew him to a career with kids.
  • Naomi asks if it's possible they could get to know Henry, and Grace says of course. She apologizes for keeping him from them for so long.
  • David says there's no need; Jonathan was the one who didn't want them in his family's life.
  • Naomi and David mention that visiting baby Henry in the hospital was the last time they thought Jonathan might let them back in.
  • Naomi's mother made the quilt they brought Henry, and all of Naomi's sons used it. She wanted Henry to have it even if it was the only thing she was able to give him.
  • Naomi asks if Grace still has it. Grace knows full well she threw it away, but she says she isn't sure and hasn't seen it in a long time.
  • Suddenly, Grace hears a baby monitor beeping. Naomi jumps up and tells Mitchell he better explain this to Grace.
  • Grace assumes Mitchell and his wife have a baby, which is almost true—his wife, Laurie, is due in June. However, the baby on the monitor is none other than Elena, Malaga and Jonathan's daughter.
  • Mitchell says he hopes knowing Aarons' story will help Grace understand. They're devastated by Jonathan's actions, but it's not Elena's fault.
  • Mitchell and Laurie have renamed her Abigail Elena and are planning to adopt her.
  • David says he loves Abigail because she's his granddaughter, and he loved Jonathan too, as hard as that may be to believe.
  • Grace says it's no. She loved him too. "Or at least, it occurred to her, I loved the person I thought he was. That was a small but critical discrepancy" (21.387).
  • Naomi comes back downstairs with Abigail Elena, and Grace notices how much happier Naomi looks.
  • Abigail Elena isn't an infant any more, and Grace reflects on all the tragedy this little girl has been through since she saw her a few months ago.
  • She still has beautiful eyelashes like Henry's.
  • Grace says she should probably go pick up Henry, and Jonathan's family says the two of them are "stuck with us now" (21.388).
  • Grace calls her dad. Henry asks where she is and Grace says they're getting a dog.

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